Tag Archives: Frank Akinsete

2020 ➤ Beyond: Learning how to be black and gay and blaze a trail to the future

Shapersofthe80s, black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Beyond director Claire Lawrie, centre: with some of her garrulous cast answering questions after a screening at Central Saint Martins college last year. Andy Polaris in red. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)

AFTER A STREAM OF EXCLUSIVE SCREENINGS for a poignant and edgy short documentary about growing up black and queer in Seventies Britain, everyone can now view it online. Titled Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, the 34-minute film explores black LGBT identities and the ways in which they have influenced the collective history of London’s alternative club, fashion, fine art, dance and music scenes. The cast of ten are long-standing friends of director/photographer Claire Lawrie who helps tell their personal stories when these fans of soul and disco, punks and Blitz Kids found each other’s company in underground clubs.

Over the past year Claire has won a fistful of film-festival awards and, prompted by the coronavirus lockdown, she has posted the full version online, and repeat viewings reward with deeper appreciation.

Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Photo that inspired the movie Beyond – Click pic to view the film in another window

“To me it’s important now that people
realise that black people were there,
because a lot of the time they
tried to paint us out”
– Andy Polaris

Onetime Blitz Kid Andy Polaris is part of the project and he recalls its origins in this extract from his own website Apolarisview. . .

“ A 2013 exhibition at the V&A museum in London titled Club to Catwalk was instrumental in bringing the collective creative talent of Eighties fashion stalwarts and club luminaries together for a preview party that summer. It was a splendid event, one of the last memorable social events with such a vibrant successful crowd. Among the assembled were Judy Blame, Princess Julia, Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes, Body Map, Antony Price, Chris Sullivan and it was the last time I saw Steve Strange (who along with Rusty Egan) had brought us all together at the Blitz Club in 1979.

The visual artist Claire Lawrie was at the V&A and pondered on the omission from the exhibition of gay black talent whose influence had permeated Eighties club culture. Although Jeffrey Hinton’s brilliant cave of projected nightlife photography did feature some of us, Lawrie echoed some of her friends’ frustration that their experience was not reflected in the exhibition. She set about organising an open-call photograph to celebrate a contingent of black talent and arranged for the gathering to be filmed by her friends, Emile Kelly and Kim Mnguni. This was the genesis of something deeper and her award-winning documentary, Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, emerged from that event with her as director.

Click any pic of the Beyond interviewees to enlarge all in a slideshow:

Continued: “ Over the next year Claire arranged interviews with ten of the candidates who were filmed on a shoestring. Contributions of archive footage were given by a long list of talented artists, people who, over the years had collaborated with and who wanted to show their respect and love for the cast. These included Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Dave Swindells and Nicola Tyson as well as John Maybury, Derek Ridgers, BodyMap, Devon Buchanon and Rankin.

The film adjusts the colour settings of the standard view of black creative lives when telling the story about club culture and its impact in the UK. Featuring ten black queer voices from the diaspora, born in the late Fifties and Sixties in the UK, Guyana and New York, the documentary delves into personal stories of discovery and eventual self-acceptance, looking back at struggles with identity and family and the wider world. The cast features stylist Frank Akinsete, transgender model Winn Austin, international model Roy Brown, make-up artist Kenny Campbell, choreographer Les Child, clubland pioneer Kenrick Davis and his mother Velma “Vee” Davis, nightclub host Nicky Green, gender-fluid performer Lanah Pellay, composer Robb Scott and myself as an original Blitz Kid turned pop singer.

Roy Brown, Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie

Roy Brown in 1985: poster boy for the Barbican’s recent exhibition on Masculinities. (Photo: Rotimi Fani-Kayode)

In the mid-Seventies and Eighties the UK’s attitudes to both race and gay issues were particularly brutal, endorsed by the anti-gay policies of Thatcher’s government and tabloid sensationalism regarding anything queer, especially later with the arrival of the Aids epidemic. The Seventies were marred by stereotypes of both marginalised groups, joining the sexist and misogynistic tropes in light entertainment and films which set the tone for how the world viewed us and how we viewed ourselves.

This lack of representation and role models forced us to create our own image during our teens, which in some cases was defiantly camp. Instead of allowing bullies to mock us, we accentuated certain behaviour, not just as a direct challenge to the heteronormative majority but against the conservative oppression in society.

Music and fashion were an escape from small-mindedness and even as early teens we were exploring alternatives and the fashionable disco and punk clubs were our laboratories of choice. . . / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ All about the making of Beyond “There is always
a black issue Dear”

➢ Interview with director Claire Lawrie: “These were
people that I looked up to and admired”

➢ On video – Beyond Q&A by RankinFilm after
the July 2019 screening at his studio

FRONT PAGE

2019 ➤ Lawrie’s Eleven talk candidly of being young black and gay in ways many of us never knew

Black issues, film, Vogue Fabrics Dalston, Beyond There’s always a black issue Dear,Claire Lawrie,

Discussion following Beyond at Vogue Fabrics Dalston: around Claire Lawrie wearing white), Andy Polaris, Roy Brown, David Holah, Iain R Webb, Greg Davis. (Photo Shapersofthe80s)


WELL THAT WAS A HILARIOUS BOUT OF GAY BANTER following the first community screening of director Claire Lawrie’s Iris prize-winning short documentary featuring eleven highly individual creatives telling their stories about growing up black and queer in 1970s and 80s Britain. Thursday’s screening at Vogue Fabrics Dalston of Beyond “There’s always a black issue, Dear” was as moving and thoughtful as it was entertaining. Joining Claire in Thursday’s follow-on discussion were some of its stars, Frank Akinsete, Andy Polaris, Roy Brown and Winn Austin, plus David Holah, Iain R Webb, Greg Davis, Shaun Cole and other individualists who made their mark before and during Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

Navigating their gender-fluid youth in this period of cultural and political turbulence saw the protagonists tackling things their own way. London’s alternative nightclub scene provided sanctuary for disco to meet soul and punks  to become Blitz Kids. As fierce LGBTQ trailblazers, the cast recount vivid memories which tell of singular determination and of resisting definition, through dance, art, fashion and music and seeing their ideas appropriated by the mainstream. The film acknowledges the importance of family, whether as parents or a group of like-minded friends. “You needed somewhere to go where you felt good about yourself,” and in the post-punk moment that meant Soho nightclubs such as Crackers and Billy’s.

Black issues, film, Vogue Fabrics Dalston, Beyond There’s always a black issue Dear,Claire Lawrie,

Claire Lawrie with guests outside Vogue Fabrics Dalston: Frank Akinsete, Pippa Brooks, Winn Austin. (Photo Andy Polaris)

In Thursday’s discussion Frank said that race itself wasn’t the issue, simply feeling “weird”. Within black circles the choice was also between reggae or soul, Andy said on today’s Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London: “The power of the film is not just about gay or straight, black or white – we were all rejects from some type of conservatism and we came together in a safe space where we could explore ourselves.”

Also on the Elms show, Claire said the film started with Les Childs being in Lindsay Kemp’s company in the mid-70s (he later worked with Michael Clark and choreographed for the Pet Shop Boys) and goes through to 1991 and the Michael and Gerlinde Costiff club Kinky Gerlinky. Claire added: “London is another star of this film – we all moved to London to be individual.”

There’s another screening tonight (6 July) at the Conduit club in Mayfair as part of BlackOut’s starry Pride programme (tickets via Eventbrite) and again on 23 July at Manchester Pride, with another hopefully in Liverpool.

➢ Tickets may still be available for tonight’s 6pm screening of Beyond plus a discussion to launch BlackOut UK’s fund-raising appeal at the Conduit Club, W1S 2YQ

radio, Andy Polaris, interview , Claire Lawrie

Andy, Bob and Claire at BBC Radio London

➢ Andy Polaris and Claire Lawrie talk about Beyond on today’s Robert Elms show at BBC Radio London

➢ A new documentary finally gives credit to the black queer people who built British nightlife – Andy Polaris writes about Beyond: There’s always a black issue Dear at GQ online

TRAILER for BEYOND

➢ More about the film Beyond

FRONT PAGE